Undergraduate Subjects: History Capstone Showcase 2018

The undergraduate History Major at the University of Melbourne culminates in the capstone subject, Making History (HIST30060). In this subject, students are given the chance to design and produce an independent historical research project on a topic of their own choice, offering students a unique opportunity to grow and shine as budding historians. It gives them the creative freedom and space to explore new ways of using the tools, skills and knowledge acquired across three years of learning in history. The subject ends with a showcase event, celebrating the best projects and giving students the chance to develop presentation skills and to share their work. Nicole Davis writes about the subject and hears from some of the students on their experience.

The 2018 crop of capstone projects was especially rich. Working together in four research workshop streams, students developed projects on a wide range of topics, across time and space. These included moving explorations of family history (Veera Ramayah’s oral history study of the Sindhi-Hindu experience of partition; Jessica O’Loghlen’s photographic essay on the history of her grandparents’ house in Tubbul, NSW); food history (Alexandra Veljanovski’s exploration of Footscray’s migrant past through a history of a local Italian cake shop); and environmental history (David Mastrantuono’s study of the demise of the Australian fur trade, and Helen Kempton’s reflections on contemporary disposable fashion, viewed through the prism of Australian World War II home sewing practices) – to name just a few.

In this subject, students are encouraged to experiment beyond the traditional academic essay format, and to try their hand at utilising a variety of media for different “real-world” audiences. The result was an impressive diversity of imaginative and exciting projects, including video documentaries, websites, podcasts, twitter feeds, magazine articles, comic books, memes, and teaching materials, as well as academic essays. Much of the work was remarkably polished and mature. The full program for the final conference, including links to online projects (a selection of which were also displayed in the Arts West Digital Studio in October), is available as a pdf, and more on the subject can be found in the 2019 Handbook.

The capstone teaching team was led by Professor David Goodman, together with Professor Mark Edele and Dr Julie Fedor, and supported by a group of experienced and dedicated tutors: Joel Barnes, Sarah Craze, Nicole Davis, and Roly Wettenhall.

Read some of the students’ reflections on their learning experiences in this subject below.

By picking the Histories in Public group, I was able to experience a style of history which placed emphasis on the role of the historian as a facilitator, storyteller, and guide through the past. I learnt to put readability and engagement before academic approval … the only limit is your own creativity and intuition. People will partake in historical conversations which directly connect with their lives. And when you listen to them, they will give you more than you could ever know. (Jessica O’Loghlen)

 

I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve been asked, what are you going to do when you finish your degree? I haven’t come up with answers that is entirely satisfying. As I made my way to the opening conference of the capstone history subject, I found myself reflecting on what this final act of my history major would reveal. Would this last step provide direction as to what to do next? Each paper I had written in the preceding years of study seemed self-contained and sometimes limited in life once the grade arrived. The work you do can be isolating and confined to yourself and the marker (whether faceless or friendly) of your essay. The paper then gets saved in a folder on your computer, maybe never to see the light of day again. I hadn’t found a light bulb moment that gave me the answer to the questions: why history? What can it give you? My lightbulb moment developed across the thirteen weeks of the course, not in a sudden flash, but like an energy saving globe, it gradually illuminated, coming to full glow during the final conference presentations of student work. Every project and every presenter brought a new, different and valuable voice to history. I learned that not only is history about a multitude of voices, but it is also about a multitude of ways to communicate those voices. I now know what to do with my History major: to tell the stories of history in new innovative ways. (Christine Latham)

 

More subjects at university need to be taught like Making History, encouraging academic creativity through freedom. An opening conference exposing the plethora of project options made students feel excited about history. The opportunity to converse and collaborate with fellow students made the experience of an independent research project less daunting. A very engaging and encouraging subject that highlights the pursuit of further studies because students are passionate about supplementary learning. (Abbey Vlahov)

 

Prior to completing Making History, I tended to think of my choice to select history as my major as one that was completely motivated by a personal passion of mine, which I enjoyed every minute of, but which I occasionally felt lacked somewhat in practical relevance to my life. The change in this perspective, above all, is what I gained from this subject; Making History provided a journey of realisation about the significance of the study of History and the ongoing impact the past has on our lives. (Alexandra Watson)

 

From what started as a superficial interest in the ‘fun parts’ of history has led to the point where I am able to see the value in all parts of the discipline, as they give context to quite literally everything in the world. Whatever ‘learning journey’ I have been on has taken me from a place of cynicism and quiet regret to something akin to excitement. (Jakob Bradbeer)

 

I doubt there has been a subject that has made me question what I was writing as much as this one. The research assignment had definitely pushed me to the edge of my comfort zone in terms of writing an essay but I can definitely now say that there was no other assignment where I had so strong a voice of my own. (Shannon Park)